It’s totally surreal writing this, but 20 years ago this week, Indiana Jones Adventure opened at Disneyland, as thousands of excited guests ventured into the subterranean darkness of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Adventureland.
I’ve never been so excited to be a theme park fan as I was in those years, months, and final weeks leading up to the opening of Indy at Disneyland. It was a huge deal. There was no social media then – if you wanted to see Indy construction progress, you had to get in your car and drive to Disneyland to check out whatever you could see. We were at Disneyland a lot then, documenting the transformation of Adventureland into the Lost Delta region, as well as the re-positioning of the Monorail to go around the massive show building that Indy lives in. We snapped a lot of pictures back then – of course, they had to be developed and you crossed your fingers that they came out each week or whatever. It was expensive and time consuming; no instant digital image to edit and tweet around the world in seconds. As a result, Theme Park Adventure has a large stack of really cool Indy pictures that has never seen the light of day, even though we used many in our printed publication at the time, The Brake Zone. Luckily, with the advent of Throwback Thursday, we get to share some of our never-before seen images with our TPAers now, two decades after they were taken!
Theme Park Adventure was the first “fanzine” to be recognized by Disneyland as “legitimate media”, and so, we were invited to attend the 3-day opening process of Indiana Jones. I can’t convey what a huge deal that was for us. Back in 1995, there were only a handful of theme park fan mags in publication; probably no more than 5 or so, if that. The fact that Disneyland creaked the door open and welcomed TPA in was both incredibly exciting, and terribly humbling to us. Without a doubt, it was due mostly to the incredible access given to us by Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter, two very early industry supporters of TPA. Imagineers Susan Bonds and Eddie Sotto were also very kind to us back then, often speaking with me about the overall project’s progress. Without their friendships and nods, there’s no way we’d have been there in person for the 3-day event.
Indy was the largest single show building to ever be built at Disneyland at the time. In fact, it still is. Watching its huge metal frame take shape from the Disneyland parking lot in the early ’90s was thrilling and awesome – none of us had ever seen a major attraction that big being installed before. The Monorail was down most of the time, to add a large “S” curve to the track to make room for Indy, which protruded from behind Adventureland into the Disneyland parking lot.
Adventureland became one massive construction project as Indiana Jones was being installed. The entire ground throughout the land was re-done with textured concrete, the Bazaar Shops were totally re-done, the Jungle Cruise received a new entry facade and queue area. For many, many months, Adventureland was closed off, and when the entire area wasn’t, it was still dominated by green construction walls bearing signage about the coming attraction, etc.
Once the attraction’s main marquee sign was unveiled, it stood there for months, almost teasing fans! A temporary secondary sign below it counted down the months to the attraction’s opening – and I’m here to tell you, those final months and weeks felt like an eternity.
The 40th Anniversary of Disneyland (40 Years of Adventures was the tie-in slogan) was centered around the opening of Indy. In the front of the park, near the ticket booths, a large photo location was erected depicting two looming cobras statues, a carving of the Eye of Mara, and a large rope hanging down into the space from an “opening” in the ruins above. The background of the photo op was a visual of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye itself. I would imagine there are a lot of fans with their own pictures that were taken of them posing at this location in the months leading up to Indy’s opening!
Leading up to the attraction’s debut, Disneyland was flooded with all sorts of Temple of the Forbidden Eye merchandise, as well as generic Indy items licensed by Lucasfilm; T-shirts, shot glasses, mugs, and of course, the ever-popular brown fedora! The park even issued a limited special ticket (they did this several times for other milestones, such as the final performance of The Main Street Electrical Parade, as well as opening of Mickey’s Toontown) that was about a foot long and maybe 5-6 inches tall. Along with all the other fans, I bought that stuff by the armload; much of it exists today in pristine condition here in the TPA archives!
At the time, Indy was the largest media event I’d ever attended. Press from all around the world was flown in to Southern California. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines – you name it, it was there, in every tongue and every shade of skin you can imagine. On top of the mind-boggling amount of media, the park also invited huge celebrities to the event and to a lavish private party that was held in Adventureland as part of the festivities. The celebrity party was the only part of the event that media wasn’t given access to. What we did have however, was an extremely close spot on the red carpet leading into Adventureland and the party zone beyond, giving us unobstructed views of celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Wayne Gretzky, Dan Aykroyd, and many more as they arrived via classic automobiles parading them slowly up Main Street, and around the Hub.
My own ventures into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye started months before, when Cast Members and their guests were allowed all the way through the attraction’s ground-breaking queue, up to the load area, and back out into Adventureland again. Finally getting to ride Indy for my first time at an ungodly hour in the morning (probably March 4th – the 72-hour event kind of has all mushed together in my memory) was both surreal and extremely gratifying. In fact, I rode with my long-time buddy, Don Schockow, who was there as radio media at the time – and that first ride lasted 35 cycles; more than most people ever will ride the attraction in their entire lives. That’s a whole other Throwback Thursday story on its own!
After all the hoopla and grand opening festivities, the real crowds came to Disneyland. Thousands and thousands of curious visitors arriving each day to try and not look into the eyes of Mara. The queue for Indiana Jones was already massive – the largest Disney had ever designed for an attraction. Despite that, the overflow queue was a gnarly switchback maze that wrapped back and forth in Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, and even into the Hub in those first few weeks of operation. Crowds like that hadn’t been seen at the park for the opening of a major attraction since Splash Mountain in 1989.
To keep it real and put things in perspective, Disneyland hasn’t seen crowds like that for the opening of a major new attraction since 1995. That speaks volumes about how excited the public in general was about the arrival of Dr. Jones at the Happiest Place on Earth. I dare say that Indiana Jones Adventure was my generation’s Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion. The level of detail and the sheer scope of the Indiana Jones Adventure were staggering at the time – still are, really. In the day and age of media-based attractions, or at very least, attractions that are hybrid media/dark ride shows, the term “they don’t make ’em that way anymore” definitely applies here.
I grew up in the age of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. By definition, I am a “Star Wars kid”. However, as with most kids my age back then, I had a favorite of the two. For me, it’s always been the Indiana Jones legacy. Having a world-class attraction based on the lore of Indiana Jones in my own back yard was a dream come true for me, personally.
The entire experience of being there for the opening of Indiana Jones Adventure was definitely a major milestone plateau for Theme Park Adventure. As we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Indiana Jones Adventure, my thoughts are on those early days of the attraction’s operation, how new and exciting the entire event was, and the huge team of incredibly talented men and women who were part of the Indy production prior to and up until the ride’s opening, including friends and colleagues such as Gary Blumenstein, Topper Helmers, my dear friend and a mentor Bob Baranick, and of course, Tony Baxter, whom I am always indebted to for being one of TPA’s earliest champions.
Editor’s Note: As I was proofing and putting the final touches on today’s Throwback Thursday story, word came that Harrison Ford had been in a plane crash here in Los Angeles, and was in critical condition. Naturally, writing stopped and my focus switched to the news and searching for any immediate updates. Ironic to have this happen, after spending the morning putting together a fairly large piece on Indiana Jones. As of 4:15 PM, Ford’s condition is reported as “fair to moderate” and that he is being taken care of at a nearby hospital.
Harrison Ford is a well-respected and very accomplished pilot; it appears at the time of this writing, that the vintage aircraft he was flying malfunctioned, and in true Indiana Jones heroic style, the 72 year-old actor circled back toward the airport and then put the plane down on a golf course, away from homes and businesses. That alone, is incredible – and the fact that he practically walked away from such an ordeal is even more stunning. Our hearts and thoughts are with Harrison Ford this afternoon, and are truly grateful that Indy has gotten out of another nasty situation intact.
As stated, there are a ton of stories – and a lot more images in our collection from the opening of Indiana Jones at Disneyland that we’ll no doubt, revisit in the future. For now, we’re going to ride off into the sunset as we secure our fedoras and look to the next adventure. Thank you for coming along with us back to the Lost Delta and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye on this very special Throwback Thursday!
– Rick West